Benefiting From Adjustment Game

March 17, 2008
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Health benefit costs continue to escalate twice as fast as inflation, crimping budgets for all employers, particularly smaller businesses.

Business owners struggle to find plans to keep their bottom lines secure while recognizing the personal priorities of their employees. Job providers seek a balance between profits and being able to recruit qualified workers who may have better benefit and compensation plans put before them elsewhere.

As outlined in several stories in the Business Journal’s Focus section this week, employers continue to adjust to rapidly fluctuating market conditions while at the same time recognizing a need to offer plans tailored to a younger work force poised to replace an aging Baby Boomer population.

Johnson Controls announced last week it has launched a research project that is a global survey of Generation Y (18-25 year-olds) to understand their preferences for their future workplace. The survey was developed by the company's Global Workplace Solutions business in partnership with Haworth.

"For the first time ever, four generations are working side-by-side,” said Guy Holden, vice president and general manager of Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions. “As the baby boomers of the 1950's start to retire, businesses are facing a fundamental shortfall in talent.  Providing a stimulating working environment is going to be a key factor in the war for future talent.  The knowledge gained from the survey will play an important role in helping us advise our clients on preparing their workplaces to attract Generation Y and support their long-term business success, as well as furthering our vision to create a more comfortable, safe and sustainable world.

Talent recruitment has also become global. Kate North, Global Director of Ideation for Haworth, said, “Generational research cannot be ignored for effective business planning.  The global reach of this research project, and the involvement of international partners, will guarantee new knowledge."

David Smith, president of The Employers Association, understands the challenges faced by West Michigan’s businesses. He suggests that some of the emerging trends are focusing not so much on the value of benefit and compensation plans to workers, but on the quality of life dimensions of such offerings. That’s why we continue to see an enhanced focus on time off, wellness programs — including such services as massage therapy or stress management sessions — family leave allowances, and other strategies that pinpoint the long-term comfort and performance level of employees.

Companies are more frequently offering personal time-off banks, as opposed to holiday or sick time. West Michigan employers have always been cognizant of the paternalistic nature of citizens in this locality. The numerous “best workplace” awards that are doled out each year for companies of all sizes are just one form of recognition of the ability of local business operators to understand the value of the social side of the equation.

The graying of the work force has put an added focus on the next generation worker — the Generation Y age group, in particular. Companies are becoming more creative in recognizing this category’s strong preference to balance between work and personal obligation. It’s not to say older generation employees haven’t had those traits all along, but it’s recognition that with the high cost of benefits and medical care, it’s become even more essential to find ways to stress preventative health measures, keeping employees fit, healthy and achieving their assigned workplace tasks.

As Smith emphasizes in his interview with the Business Journal, the ultimate goal of employers is “not just to be nice to … employees.” Business must operate efficiently and profitably. To accomplish this balance, companies will continue to seek innovative ways to adjust and incorporate a more technically-oriented worker into their operations.

The evolution continues. Growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s essential to adjust to the times at every opportunity.

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